This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.


A change in climate: The greening of corporate responsibility -- Looking ahead, some companies think the demand for efficient and clean energy use is an opportunity not just for savings but for growth

A change in climate

Jan 17th 2008
From The Economist print edition

The greening of corporate responsibility

Illustration by Ian Whadcock

AL GORE has done a wonderful thing for corporate bosses. By helping to propel climate change to the top of the global agenda, he has opened up a world of new opportunities for them. Opportunities for rhetoric, for a start. The green theme allows chief executives to adopt a planetary perspective. "It's what survival will be about in the 21st century," proclaims Coca-Cola's Neville Isdell, talking of his company's plans for water conservation. Over at PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi stresses the importance of companies embracing "purpose" as well as performance, with products that "contribute positively and responsibly to human civilisation".

Beyond the lofty talk, reducing a company's output of greenhouse gases and encouraging "responsible" use of resources can also mean cutting waste and saving money. Whether it is discouraging the use of plastic bags in a supermarket or switching off a law firm's computers at night, there are plenty of quick wins for most companies. This is doubly satisfying—doing well and doing good—and therefore extremely popular.

For some companies the gains to be had from cutting waste and improving energy use are very large. United Technologies Corporation (UTC), whose products range from aerospace to air-conditioning systems, has reduced its carbon footprint by 19% over the past ten years even as it has doubled its output, according to George David, the CEO. "We've had an explosion of doing more with less," he says. In 2008 UTC is aiming for growth of 10% while cutting carbon emissions by a further 5%.


Looking ahead, some companies think the demand for efficient and clean energy use is an opportunity not just for savings but for growth. Mr David thinks that in 30 years' time conservation and related areas could make up 30% of the company's business, from nothing today. DuPont, a chemicals giant, is starting to set targets for increasing revenue from "non-depletable" products and services. At the Clinton Global Initiative last September Standard Chartered, a bank with big operations in emerging markets, pledged to spend $8 billion-10 billion over five years on financing renewable energy projects in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Peter Sands, the chief executive, says that since enormous amounts of money will have to be deployed in this area in the coming years, "we want to be active leaders."

Sootless in Seattle

But leadership on "sustainability" is not easy. Some of the companies that set themselves the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2010 or 2012 will struggle to find a way to do it. For those that are serious about changing their impact on the planet, it will be something of a voyage of discovery. The starting point is to find out the size of their current carbon footprint. "We find with energy and greenhouse gases, if you start to measure, people reduce the usage," says Linda Fisher, the chief sustainability officer at DuPont. Measuring is not a simple task, but once a company has a proper baseline it can see what can be changed. Commitment from the top is crucial.

What are the truly committed companies doing? Three examples—an outdoor-goods business, a logistics company and one of the world's biggest conglomerates—give an idea of what is happening at the cutting edge.

If your business is equipping people for outdoor adventure, then careful stewardship of the environment seems a natural. Sure enough, outdoor-goods companies such as Patagonia ("every day we take steps to lighten our footprint and do less harm") and Timberland ("our love for the outdoors is matched by our passion for confronting global warming") are among the most ardent champions of sustainability. The same goes for Seattle-based REI, America's biggest consumer co-operative with over 3m members and 80-plus stores.

As a co-op, REI enjoys the luxury of not having to worry about Wall Street's expectations each quarter. It can think long-term. Four years ago it decided it had to aim to be climate-neutral and brought in consultants to establish a baseline and help produce a plan. The target date is 2020, with a one-third reduction by 2009 against the 2006 baseline.

REI was shocked to find that more than a quarter of its carbon emissions came from flights associated with the adventure travel it organises, so it started to buy carbon offsets for these trips. One-fifth of its emissions comes from electricity consumption, so it shopped around for renewable sources, such as hydro power in Washington state. It opened a second distribution hub in Pennsylvania to cut energy waste in transport. It also looked at ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from employee commuting, which account for about a fifth of the total, so it is providing incentives for its people to cycle to work. "Our team is really getting granular," says Sally Jewell, REI's chief executive.

The company is also working on the carbon footprint of its buildings, its use of paper, its packaging and the eco-friendliness of its products. Together with other manufacturers, it is looking at eco-sensitive materials, which need to be natural but also to do the job in hand well. Green labelling will follow.

The lesson from REI is that going seriously green involves a lot more than setting a target date for zero emissions. It requires measuring and managing. That turns out to be hard, intricate work which stretches right across a company's operations, and perhaps beyond. At present, REI counts the carbon once it owns a product: for example, it takes responsibility for its own brands' transport from the factory. It does not include its suppliers' operations in its carbon calculations because it has yet to work out how to do it. "But I think that's coming," predicts Ms Jewell.

Illustration by Ian Whadcock
The non-flying Dutchman

You know a boss is serious when he gives up his private jet, swaps his Porsche for a hybrid Prius and drives rather than flies all the way from Amsterdam to Davos. Peter Bakker believes that being on top of the climate-change issue is a prime business need for TNT, the Dutch logistics company he heads. He thinks customers may well shorten their supply chains to stop shipping so many parts around the world by air. Regulators may impose new rules, such as a carbon tax or carbon labelling, which could affect TNT's business model. Investors are asking questions about sustainability. "Only those companies that can make the shift to manage this as an integral part of the business will be able to respond fast enough," he says.

Last year Mr Bakker launched "Planet Me", a campaign to change the company's carbon trajectory. TNT's carbon footprint has been measured, targets for reducing it will soon be set and efforts will be made to help employees lead greener lives both at work and at home. For starters, the travel budget is being cut by 20% (a saving of €3.2m a year, which more than covers the €2.8m spent on installing state-of-the-art desktop video-conferencing systems). In 2010 TNT will move its headquarters to what is designed to be a carbon-positive building that will be producing green energy to spare.

TNT intends to monitor its carbon emissions assiduously, giving customers a tracker to show CO2 emissions of the services they are buying. Reporting on emissions will follow the same rules as financial reporting, so there could be warnings of poor performance just as a company might issue profit warnings. Bonus schemes will be linked to this.

But there is no escaping the fact that, as a global transport company with a big fleet of aeroplanes and trucks, TNT churns out greenhouse gases. In 2006 it produced 826 kilotonnes of CO2. To cut down on emissions from the trucks, it is introducing hybrids and electric vehicles. The 44 aeroplanes are trickier. They account for half of all TNT's emissions, and there is little the company can do but try to run these as efficiently as possible. It says it is prepared to invest in promising aircraft technologies.

Its fleet includes two Boeing 747s which fly back and forth between Liège in Belgium and Shanghai, accounting for half the company's fuel consumption. "Two years ago we didn't think of climate change when buying 747s," says Mr Bakker. "Today it would be a main item if we were considering buying two more." But would TNT really forgo increasing its business with China?

The logistics industry provides the arteries of globalisation, and TNT's experience suggests that pressure for more responsible strategies on carbon emissions will spread through those arteries. Some of TNT's customers in Scandinavia, for example, have started to inquire about the carbon impact of transporting their parts. TNT is asking its own suppliers and subcontractors to be committed to the environment too, and selects them with that in mind.

The list of big companies that have put the environment or other aspects of CSR at the heart of their strategy is not very long, but one name usually tops it: GE. In 2005 it launched "ecomagination", a vigorous push to invest in green technology and expand sales of products and services with measurably better environmental performance. Products range from light bulbs to gas turbines to railway and jet engines and have to offer a sustainability improvement of at least 10% to be included.

General Eclectic

Like most such initiatives, ecomagination is partly a packaging and public-relations job, bringing together a number of things the company was doing anyway. Some say it is not even particularly ambitious, given the gains in energy efficiency that technology is producing across the board. Part of the plan involves a cut in greenhouse-gas emissions in 2012 of 1% compared with the 2004 baseline—not bad for a company that also expects to grow strongly over that period, but hardly stretching. Sure enough, GE is beating its targets, with emissions already down by 4%. There are no targets yet for saving water (though GE says these are on their way).

Still, GE is big, and ecomagination has scale. R&D investment in cleaner technologies is to rise from $700m in 2005 to $1.5 billion in 2010. By then the company expects revenues from ecomagination products to be at least $20 billion.

This is turning out to be a good bet. "We've sold out in eco-certified products to 2009," says Bob Corcoran, the vice-president for corporate citizenship. You can't buy a GE wind turbine before 2010. Employees like the green focus and have come up with initiatives of their own that are worth some $70m a year in energy savings. All this has helped to polish GE's reputation. The company still gets bad marks for its response to the toxic mess it poured into New York's Hudson river long ago, but it now has fans among environmentalists too.

GE has not forgotten that it is in the business of making money, not doing social work. "No good business can call itself a good corporate citizen if it fritters away shareholder money," says Mr Corcoran. GE has 6m investors, and "it's their money too." The company is simply moving in the direction in which it thinks social pressures will push it anyway.

In doing so, it is also behaving in ways that would have been hard to imagine a few years ago. It has joined together with other big companies and NGOs to form the US Climate Action Partnership to lobby for national legislation in America to cap carbon emissions. Europe already has a cap-and-trade system, and GE would like a more uniform set of rules across the world.

There is no doubt that the greening of corporate responsibility rings a bell with many companies. They can cut costs, delight employees and burnish their brand. By preparing their business for the expected demands of customers and regulators they may also be giving themselves a competitive advantage. But if it is to involve much more than public relations, it will be long, hard work. As companies' claims of green virtue multiply, so will the efforts by organisations such as Climate Counts to monitor them and hold them to account. Few customers will buy green at the expense of price or quality, and it is early days for much of the research and investment in clean technologies. Besides, the demand for sustainability varies greatly from place to place. Europe and Japan have mostly been ahead of America. And in China the dash for growth comes first.

Scientists unveil artificial CO2-capturing foam

I came across a few useful blog entries on Carbon capture... here they are in case they might be use to you

Scientists unveil artificial CO2-capturing foam

Posted Feb 19th 2008 11:12AM by Xavier Navarro
Filed under:
Carbon Capture, USA

A group of American scientists have unveiled a new type of foam-like substance which they claim captures CO2 up to 83 times its volume. The best part is that this foam is able to work at high temperature and pressure conditions, which makes it suitable for use in vehicles and power plants.

The new crystal-like pores that form the foam, named ZIFs, have been obtained with metal atoms such as cobalt or zinc and are linked to organic molecules. Since ZIFs may have different types of links, they can capture more CO2 than any other equivalent substance.

The idea is using this foam on tailpipes or chimneys, where they would capture CO2 that results from combustion. This foam could be treated afterwards in a low-pressure chamber where CO2 would be removed and then sequestered. This group of scientist is also optimistic that a large amount of this foam can be created in the next two to three years.


[Source: Science via El Mundo]

The EU will apply strict controls to carbon capture technology

Posted Jan 22nd 2008 1:38PM by Xavier Navarro
Filed under:
Legislation and Policy, Carbon Capture, European Union

As we have explained before, Europe wants to become a green continent and is taking various actions to accomplish this target. One of these efforts is the widespread use of carbon capture technologies. According to EU figures, 40 percent of Europe's carbon emissions come from coal plants that produce electricity. Carbon capturing on-site, therefore, seems a reasonable way to reduce these emission as much as possible those and, consequently, reduce global emissions.

Now there is a new proposed Directive referring to CO2 storage in geological strati, either inland or in the sea, under continental platforms. It excludes water columns storage, since the risk of the gas leaving water is quite high (just think about carbonated beverages left open).

The EU wants to restrict authorizations for these storage facilities, and the maximum security will be demanded. Each request will have to wait for 6 months until the EU will give its opinion to the affected country.

The norm will also display a very comprehensive set of technical requirements and evaluation methods for the installation to be authorized. Moreover, it will also ask for constant analysis on the CO2 levels during transport, injection and storage of the gas.

Finally, the directive will also include rules on how to prosecute violators of these rules and what to do if the gas is released accidentally.

DECARBit project tries to capture carbon the cheapest way possible: before combustion

Posted Nov 28th 2007 8:47AM by Xavier Navarro
Filed under:
Emerging Technologies, Carbon Capture, European Union

The DECARBit project is an investigation paid for by the European Union to study carbon capture technologies during the precombustion process of coal and gas. Norway is also part of the project, via
SINTEF (Norway does not belong to the EU).

Current carbon capture techniques, mostly post-combustion, use chemicals applied directly to the resulting fumes of combustion. This is an expensive and complex process. DECARBit tries a different approach: instead of capturing CO2, the idea is to capture as much carbon as possible before the combustion, which leaves a hydrogen-rich fuel. The idea is making carbon atoms form CO (carbon monoxyde) molecules which become CO2 with water (more or less like this: CO + H2O CO2 + H2). This leaves a much cleaner fuel, rich in hydrogen and it's actually a current process of obtaining H2.

This is not the only carbon capture project SINTEF is working in: up to five concurrent projects are being coordinated by this Norwegian entity, together with the EU. Norway is a country pioneer in carbon capturing: back in 1996 Statoil used an empty natural gas reservoir to store CO2.

[Source: Sintef via Econoticias]

A view about carbon capture projects around the world

Posted Nov 13th 2007 7:28PM by Xavier Navarro
Filed under:
Carbon Capture, Green Daily

Carbon capture is a dream for oil companies and other polluting industries. It goes like this: power plants that are able to capture more than 80 percent of CO2, carbon pipes that take liquified CO2 down to old oil wells, and also mass producing hydrogen. Something that will allow the world to lick the last drops of oil, coal and gas guilt-free. Spanish newspaper El País has published a very interesting article on the possibilities of this technology, which we'll summarize here.

As our readers know, the
EU really thinks that carbon capturing is a suitable solution. After signing the Kyoto protocol, Europe should have reduced CO2 emissions by 18 percent in 2012 over the 1990 value. However, the EU is expecting higher reductions according to United Nation's Climate Change Panel: 50 percent less in 2050. And there's nothing as goos as capturing that CO2 to reach that goal: By 2020 there should be commercially viable carbon capture projects side-by-side with power plants. For starters, 12 projects should be ready in 2015.

Let's have a look at some projects around the world:

  • Exxon: Once one of the leaders in denying climate change, now uses an old technique: CO2 is injected in oil wells to help extract oil. The technique is ready, so the company is using it to actually store CO2.
  • Statoil: The Norwegian oil company takes away the CO2 which comes mixed with natural gas and stores it a salty aquifer more than 3000 ft. below the sea bed. They're also preparing three more projects to be installed alongside powerplants.
  • BP: With three projects in Australia, California and Scotland, BP expects to use carbon capture projects to create hydrogen and store CO2 before 2012. Anglo-dutch Shell and French Total have similar projects.
Continue reading after the jump

[Source: El País]
However, the focus should also be put on emerging countries such as China and India. China is opening a new power plant (using coal) every 5 days. These two countries will be responsible of 50 percent of the expected increase in energy usage between now and 2030.

Environmentalists aren't that excited about these technologies and insist that the focus should be put on renewable sources of energy, not "band-aid" systems that will, in turn, increase energy usage. It's expected that carbon capture will increase the cost of electricity anywhere from 20 to 85 percent but will also use about 25 percent of that energy to store CO2. There are also serious concerns on how sure this storage can be, because leakage would be almost unnoticeable.

Nevertheless, carbon capture technology is being pushed forward: The EU is completing legislation schemes to support it by 2010.

*IBM Confidential: Exposé on how to start a P.R. nightmare without any help from anyone else; or, detailed instructions on how to neatly shoot yourself in t

Porsche officially starts legal process against London's congestion charge

Posted Feb 19th 2008 11:52AM by Sebastian Blanco
Filed under:
Porsche, Legislation and Policy, Green Daily, UK

We've already seen Porsche make its case for an exemption from EU emissions rules. With the new, higher congestion charge announce the other day for London, it's no surprise that Porsche is fighting back there, too. It's just hard to be a car company that makes cars that spew CO2 like it's going out of style.

Today, the upper-end automaker (that's upper end of the price and the emissions scales) announced that it will start a "judicial review process" against the Mayor of London and the
Transport for London group (the city organization that imposed the charge) over what it calls the "unjust 3000% congestion charge increase."

Officially, Porsche will write a letter to mayor Ken Livingstone this week, and the mayor's office will have 14 days to respond. Based on the mayor's reply, Porsche could apply to the Royal Courts of Justice to plead its case that charging drivers of dirty cars £25 to enter the city is "completely unfair."

Details in the Porsche release after the jump.


Porsche announces intention to start judicial review process against Mayor and Transport for London over unjust 3000% congestion charge increase

Porsche Cars Great Britain has announced its intention to make an application for judicial review of the proposed extension in the London congestion charge, which will see the cost of driving some cars in the capital rise from £8.00 a day, or just 80p if they are residents in the congestion zone, to £25.00 a day.

Porsche believes the proposed increase in the congestion charge for Band G cars is unfair, that the increase – 3025% for Central London residents - is 'disproportionate' and that it will do nothing to achieve the stated aim of decreasing emissions in central London.

Commenting on the Porsche action, Andy Goss, Managing Director of Porsche Cars GB, said, "A massive congestion charge increase is quite simply unjust. Thousands of car owners driving a huge range of cars will be hit by a disproportionate tax which is clear will have a very limited effect on CO2 emissions."

Porsche will be writing to the Mayor this week. The Mayor will then have 14 days to respond to Porsche. If the Mayor fails to respond to Porsche's letter or refuses to reconsider his plans, Porsche intends formally to submit its application for judicial review at the Royal Courts of Justice summary of the judicial review process is given in a separate document to accompany this release).

Mr Goss added, "Not only is this rise completely unfair to many drivers, but it will also damage London based-businesses of all sizes, and successful people from across the world will start to think twice about basing themselves here if they think they are going to be used as cash cows for City Hall. The proposed increase will be bad for London as a whole and will send out the signal that it is not serious about establishing itself as the best place in the world to do business."

[Source: Porsche]

The Triple Bottom Line Blog: IBM On The Practical Benefits Of Transparency -- The IBM study suggests some interesting upsides for transparency--practical ways in which being open to outside scrutiny can actually reduce costs and lessen risks

A post from Andy Savitz' blog -

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IBM On The Practical Benefits Of Transparency
Thursday, February 14, 2008 / KW
Here is a new study from IBM Global Business Services titled "Attaining sustainable growth through corporate social responsibility." Some of it simply confirms trends most of us in the "sustainability community" already recognize--for example, the fact that most companies are now beginning to look at corporate social responsibility initiatives as potential sources of business growth.

However, a couple of interesting observations from the report stuck out for me. Perhaps not surprisingly for a study from IBM, they relate to the information-management aspects of CSR.

1. Although the companies surveyed say they are pursuing CSR in large part because of demands from their customers, the great majority (76 percent) say they don't really understand what those customers expect or want. Most companies, it seems, relegate conversations about CSR to their sales, marketing, or PR people, which means that meaningful dialog about the topic doesn't generally involve line managers who have the power to make real changes in what the company does or how it does it.

It seems clear that this will have to change. After all, any company seriously interested in developing world-class customer service (for example) would make open dialog with customers about service expectations a high priority for its executives--and everyone, I think, understands this on some level. The same needs to be true when it comes to CSR.

2. When it comes to transparency, we in business tend to focus on the costs and the downsides: Can we really expose our inner workings to public scrutiny? Will transparency open us up to lawsuits or public embarrassment? Will it give our competitors a leg up? How expensive will it be to retool our IT systems to make it possible? etc. etc.

The IBM study suggests some interesting upsides for transparency--practical ways in which being open to outside scrutiny can actually reduce costs and lessen risks:

Increasingly, we believe that the degree to which a company is willing and able to open itself to stakeholder scrutiny will be a make or break factor in achieving CSR objectives. In fact, the company that invites more eyes on its operations can preempt problems that would otherwise become very expensive to solve.
To illustrate, the report discussses the challenges facing a manufacturing firm with thousands of suppliers around the world. (Hello, Nike.) How can it monitor and control the behavior of all the links in this vast supply chain? The temptation is to hunker down and go on the defensive, because the costs and complexities are simply so great. However, transparency offers a possible alternative:
But if a company clearly pledges to enforce standards, openly sets goals to improve upon its current abilities, and invites and enables stakeholders like NGOs to help monitor practices, then transparency not only relieves the business of some of the burden for monitoring, but strengthens relationships that were once adversial.
Obviously, this is easier said than done. But the greatest hurdle isn't technical--it's psychological. Companies need to develop the willingness to talk openly about what they are doing (and not doing) and to let outsiders verify the information for themselves; to give up a large degree of control over the data they generate; and to entrust their corporate message and values to people at all levels of the organization, not just a few designated spokespeople.

Let's face it, this is scary. And it will take plenty of internal conversation, self-examination, training, and re-education for many companies to get to the point of accepting this kind of openness. But those that do this sooner--and do it well--will have an edge over the competition, because they will be in a position to become "trusted partners" of their customers, not just in words but in fact.

BusinessWeek: Rise of the Carbon-Neutral City -- the governments of China, UAE, Costa Rica, Norway, and even Libya have announced grand, state-sponsored development plans that promise some version of carbon neutrality

Thanks to Norbert for the Vox post and the link

BusinessWeek: Rise of the Carbon-Neutral City

Link: Rise of the Carbon-Neutral City

This article contrasts a number of large scale, 'greenfield' carbon-neutral cities such as Masdar and Dongtan, with retrofit strategies such as Vancouver's focus on efficient public transit.  Although high-profile projects can provide a boost to innovative technologies and generate interest, the cost is high and the technology may not always be transferable.  The article highlights the importance of measuring the benefits achieved, such as reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. 

At the same time, there are advantages in scale - synergy between diverse elements can open up cost-effective opportunities for green design.  An example is the Dockside Green project in Victoria, BC - their Annual Sustainability Report: 2007 is a shining example of what is possible.  'Systems' solutions can deliver also unexpected benefits, such as Vancouver's public transit strategy.  The challenge is to adapt them to scales that make sense.

For a perspective on cities founded on ecological principles, see the TreeHugger post Ecocities of Tomorrow: An Interview with Richard Register.  Register talks of the vision as well as the challenge of changing how we live, and also describes three scenarios based on how we use the remaining oil that has fueled our development.

BusinessWeek logo
Green Design February 11, 2008, 11:47AM EST text size: TT
Rise of the Carbon-Neutral City
Several ambitious plans around the world envision green cities, but such projects raise as many questions as they promise to answer

by Matt Vella

In the windswept deserts of Abu Dhabi, construction is under way on a green oasis planners say represents one of the most ambitious urban building projects ever. On Feb. 7, the United Arab Emirates-funded consortium behind Masdar City, a zero-carbon, zero-waste, self-contained community meant to house 50,000 people, finally broke ground, launching the first of seven building phases to be completed over the next eight years. All told, the $22 billion megaproject will include cutting-edge solar power and water treatment systems, nonpolluting underground light rail, and a small research university operated in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Foster & Partners-designed Masdar project (, 12/13/07) is no doubt a bid to diversify the UAE's petroleum-rich economy as well as green the country's image. But more important, it is the latest in a growing list of high-profile, high-promise, environmentally friendly city design projects around the world. With mounting concerns over global warming and exploding urban populations, the race to design and build the model "green city of the future" is on. The sites proposed are of such scale and complexity that they represent a major new front in green innovation.

Equally ambitious projects to build entirely new, sustainabilitly-focused cities are cropping up on nearly every continent. Well-known architectural firms such as Charlottesville, Va.'s William McDonough & Partners and London's Arup have signed on to create massive green projects in China, which will effectively test the ability of engineers and urban planners to manage that country's staggering and often environmentally ravaging growth.

Avalanche of Innovation

In a similar vein, the governments of Costa Rica, Norway, and even Libya have announced grand, state-sponsored development plans that promise some version of carbon neutrality—offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, often by producing clean, renewable energy. Smaller private and public developments throughout Europe and North America abound, powered by everything from solar energy and hydrogen fuel cells to even human waste.

"These sites—even the more experimental projects—matter because they set 'stretch' goals," says Ann Rappaport, a lecturer in the urban and environmental policy department at Tufts University. Rappaport says the most ambitious plans are likely to quicken the pace of technological and architectural development in much the same way corporations that set stringent green goals for themselves in the 1980s and 1990s learned the most, even if they did not always meet initial goals.

"Frankly, we need an avalanche of innovation," adds Alex Steffen, the co-founder and executive editor of, a leading environmental blog and nonprofit. [See also Cities: A Smart Alternative to Cars, (, 2/11/08). "Such projects serve to push the boundaries of green practice and expand our sense of what's possible," he adds, suggesting the practice of urban design stands to gain from the trend.

Innovation Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

Developments such as Masdar and Arup's $1.3 billion Dongtan project on Chongming Island, off the eastern shore of China, certainly have advantages over so-called in-fill projects, or plans that attempt to retrofit existing buildings and cities along green principles. According to Khaled Awad, director of property development at Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co., which is overseeing Masdar, starting from scratch allowed the city's designers to position the development's layout such that its wind turbines can generate as much clean power as possible. [Hear Awad speak in Putting Masdar on the Map, (, 2/11/08)]. That's not a luxury afforded to an existing city whose plan may have been laid out hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.

And as a reminder that innovation does not have to be expensive or high-tech, energy-savvy buildings that use things as simple as better insulation form one of the core components of many of the major city projects now planned, says Gary Lawrence, who heads up Arup's urban strategies. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, energy inefficiencies in buildings account for some 33% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. "Much of the glass used in buildings is so inefficient at containing heat," asserts Lawrence, "most people might as well have their windows wide open year-round."

But even the glitziest, most intelligently designed projects have raised significant questions from environmentalists about how much of an impact new developments can have on the global environmental crisis. "You have to wonder what that money could have done to make existing cities more sustainable," says Daniel Lerch, program manager of the Portland (Ore.) Post-Carbon Cities Institute, which helps local governments plan green development projects.

More Questions Than Answers

According to the United Nations Population Fund, the number of urban dwellers will rise to 5 billion by 2030. That's some 60% of the world's population, most of them flooding into existing urban centers. "We simply cannot build our way out this problem," acknowledges Arup's Lawrence of the global environmental crisis. Like most large firms, Arup is working on retrofit projects as well as new city developments. "We absolutely must also look at greening existing structures," he adds.

And, of course, there are concerns about so-called greenwashing, or misleading sustainability claims. "One can beat the drum, but does it really make a difference?" asks Michael Kinsley, a senior consultant for cities with the Rocky Mountain Institute (, 10/29/07), a sustainability research firm in Snowmass, Colo. Though generally positive about the prospects of even the biggest new projects, Kinsley says it remains to be seen how transferable the planning expertise and technology of new development projects like Masdar will be to existing cities such as London or Los Angeles.

Kinsley says monitoring how these projects account for energy consumption once they are complete is likely the best indicator of how seriously their managers take the sustainability issue. After all, some much-vaunted planned green communities never made it off the paper they were printed on, while others have progressed at a much slower clip than originally hoped. The experimental green village of Arcosanti outside Phoenix, which was begun in 1970, is still under construction, for example.

Credibility on the Line

And some of the best existing green urban planning may not have been billed as such until recently. Since at least the 1970s, Canada's third-largest city, Vancouver, has earned accolades from urban planners around the world for a development strategy that has managed the city's population growth while minimizing its impact on the environment, partly by maximizing the efficiency of public transportation. The program was effectively developed before today's green building movement took root. "In some ways, it isn't rocket science," says's Steffen, pointing to Vancouver's achievements. "A lot of the time, we simply don't choose to plan smartly," he adds.

Still, the engineers, planners, and architects behind Masdar, Dongtan, and other new cities say there are enormous technological and practical advances to be made via new projects that can be applied to retrofit projects—and other industries. They say the extensive international partnerships required to complete such projects have a generally positive impact on the global sustainability community, encouraging more information sharing, including which design strategies work most effectively and—more crucially—which do not. After all, what may ultimately be on the line in the deserts of the Middle East and on foggy Chinese coastal islands is the credibility of the green-city building movement itself. "If this project fails," says Masdar's Awad, "it will be a major, permanent blow to the idea of sustainability."

View the slide show.

Matt Vella is a writer for in New York.

Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth

Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth
by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 02.19.08
Science & Technology (alternative energy)
email this article


Report: Alberta Oil Sands Most Destructive Project on Earth
18 Feb 08

Environmental Defence has released a report calling the Alberta Oil Sands the most destructive project on Earth.

Few Canadians know that Canada is home to one of the world's largest dams and it is built to hold toxic waste from just one Tar Sands operation," Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence.

And according to the report this is just the beginning. Approvals have already been given that will double the size of existing operations and Canada's leaders have been talking with the US government to grow oil sands operations in a "short time span."

Even a former Premier of Alberta is concerned. Peter Lougheed who served as Premier from 1971 to 1985 was recently quoted on the oil sands as saying:

... it is just a moonscape. It is wrong in my judgment, a major wrong... So it is a major, major federal and provincial issue."

However, there is a silver lining in all this. A recent Canadian parliamentary committee recently stated that:

A business as usual approach to the development of the oil sands is not sustainable. The time has come to begin the transition to a clean energy future."

Here's a few facts about the Alberta Oil Sands:


  • Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year.
  • At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing in them.
  • Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes in Canada.
  • The toxic tailing ponds are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. The ponds span 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space.
  • Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.
  • The oil sands operations are the fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas in Canada. By 2020 the oil sands will release twice the amount produced currently by all the cars and trucks in Canada.


Masdar in the US... one day

Thanks to Colin and Ian for the link. Fascinating vision for a new green city in the Persian Gulf

Map Details Human Impact on Oceans

Map Details Human Impact on Oceans
Posted: 2008-02-16 06:52:56
Filed Under: Science News
WASHINGTON (Feb. 14) - Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop pristine, might be the lament of today's Ancient Mariner. Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the planet, and every single spot has been affected by people in some way.

Photo Gallery

Ocean Regions

1 of 5    

Scientists revealed a new map on Thursday that shows marine ecosystems around the world that have been affected by human activities. Click through the photos to see the areas that have suffered the most. High impact areas are shown in red, followed by dark orange, light orange, yellow, green and blue, which signals low impact.

Researchers studying 17 different activities ranging from fishing to pollution compiled a new map showing how and where people have impacted the seas.

The map was released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston and published in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

"Our results show that when these and other individual impacts are summed up, the big picture looks much worse than I imagine most people expected. It was certainly a surprise to me," said lead author Ben Halpern, an assistant research scientist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Photo Gallery

Areas at Risk
From Rising Seas

1 of 9    

Scientists at the University of Arizona in September created maps based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey that show areas around the U.S. that would become flooded if the sea rose one meter. Above, the northeast is shown. Click through the photos to see other regions.

The areas most affected include the North Sea, the South and East China Seas, Caribbean Sea, the east coast of North America, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Bering Sea and parts of the western Pacific, the study found. It said the least affected areas are near the poles.

However, the researchers said it is likely that human activities will affect polar regions more and more as climate change warms those areas.

Damage includes reductions in fish and sea animals as well as problems for coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, rocky reefs and shelves and seamounts.

"There were two things we didn't anticipate," Halpern said in a telephone interview. "Every single spot in the oceans was affected by at least one human activity ... we figured there'd be places people just hadn't gotten to yet."

And "more than 40 percent is impacted by multiple different activities," he added. "The oceans are not in good shape."

Yet Halpern did find room for hope.

"There are some areas in fairly good condition. They are small and scattered, but have fairly low impact," he said. "That suggests that with effort from all of us, we can try to protect these patches and use them as a guideline for what we'd like the rest of the ocean to start looking like."

The 19-member research team mapped the varying impacts on the oceans and then through overlays of the maps they were able to compile which areas were most affected.

"This research is a critically needed synthesis of the impact of human activity on ocean ecosystems," David Garrison, biological oceanography program director at the National Science Foundation, said in a statement.

Impacts studied by the researchers included the effects of structures such as oil rigs, commercial shipping, species invasion, climate-change impacts including acidification, ultraviolet radiation and sea temperature, various types of fishing and several types of human-related pollution.

In a separate paper in the same issue of Science, researchers reported that oxygen levels in some of the shallow waters along the coast of Oregon dropped to virtually nothing for the first time ever in 2006.

The research team led by Francis Chan at Oregon State University said the cause of this change is not yet completely clear, but the findings show how quickly the distribution of oxygen can change.

In the region upwelling currents bring nutrient-rich but oxygen-poor water onto shallow areas where the nutrients support an abundance of life, but they are also vulnerable to the risk of low-oxygen events.

Halpern's study was funded by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, the National Science Foundation and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.

Chan's research was funded by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In Congress on Thursday, the House voted 352-49 to approve $454 million over the next seven years for two ocean exploration programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., the bill's sponsor, said it would coordinate efforts to study marine ecosystems, organisms and geology.

About 95 percent of the ocean floor remains unexplored, he said. "This vast area teems with undiscovered species and natural and cultural resources."

A Solar Grand Plan: By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions

Thanks to David for the link

Scientific American Magazine -  December 16, 2007

A Solar Grand Plan
By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions

By Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis

High prices for gasoline and home heating oil are here to stay. The U.S. is at war in the Middle East at least in part to protect its foreign oil interests. And as China, India and other nations rapidly increase their demand for fossil fuels, future fighting over energy looms large. In the meantime, power plants that burn coal, oil and natural gas, as well as vehicles everywhere, continue to pour millions of tons of pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually, threatening the planet.

Well-meaning scientists, engineers, economists and politicians have proposed various steps that could slightly reduce fossil-fuel use and emissions. These steps are not enough. The U.S. needs a bold plan to free itself from fossil fuels. Our analysis convinces us that a massive switch to solar power is the logical answer.

Solar energy's potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation's total energy consumption in 2006.

To convert the country to solar power, huge tracts of land would have to be covered with photovoltaic panels and solar heating troughs. A direct-current (DC) transmission backbone would also have to be erected to send that energy efficiently across the nation.

The technology is ready. On the following pages we present a grand plan that could provide 69 percent of the U.S.'s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy (which includes transportation) with solar power by 2050. We project that this energy could be sold to consumers at rates equivalent to today's rates for conventional power sources, about five cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). If wind, biomass and geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide 100 percent of the nation's electricity and 90 percent of its energy by 2100.

The federal government would have to invest more than $400 billion over the next 40 years to complete the 2050 plan. That investment is substantial, but the payoff is greater. Solar plants consume little or no fuel, saving billions of dollars year after year. The infrastructure would displace 300 large coal-fired power plants and 300 more large natural gas plants and all the fuels they consume. The plan would effectively eliminate all imported oil, fundamentally cutting U.S. trade deficits and easing political tension in the Middle East and elsewhere. Because solar technologies are almost pollution-free, the plan would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 1.7 billion tons a year, and another 1.9 billion tons from gasoline vehicles would be displaced by plug-in hybrids refueled by the solar power grid. In 2050 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be 62 percent below 2005 levels, putting a major brake on global warming.

Photovoltaic Farms
In the past few years the cost to produce photovoltaic cells and modules has dropped significantly, opening the way for large-scale deployment. Various cell types exist, but the least expen­sive modules today are thin films made of cadmium telluride. To provide electricity at six cents per kWh by 2020, cadmium telluride modules would have to convert electricity with 14 percent efficiency, and systems would have to be installed at $1.20 per watt of capacity. Current modules have 10 percent efficiency and an installed system cost of about $4 per watt. Progress is clearly needed, but the technology is advancing quickly; commercial efficiencies have risen from 9 to 10 percent in the past 12 months. It is worth noting, too, that as modules improve, rooftop photovoltaics will become more cost-competitive for homeowners, reducing daytime electricity demand.

In our plan, by 2050 photovoltaic technology would provide almost 3,000 gigawatts (GW), or billions of watts, of power. Some 30,000 square miles of photovoltaic arrays would have to be erected. Although this area may sound enormous, installations already in place indicate that the land required for each gigawatt-hour of solar energy produced in the Southwest is less than that needed for a coal-powered plant when factoring in land for coal mining. Studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., show that more than enough land in the Southwest is available without requiring use of environmentally sensitive areas, population centers or difficult terrain. Jack Lavelle, a spokesperson for Arizona's Department of Water Conservation, has noted that more than 80 percent of his state's land is not privately owned and that Arizona is very interested in developing its solar potential. The benign nature of photovoltaic plants (including no water consumption) should keep environmental concerns to a minimum.

The main progress required, then, is to raise module efficiency to 14 percent. Although the efficiencies of commercial modules will never reach those of solar cells in the laboratory, cadmium telluride cells at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are now up to 16.5 percent and rising. At least one manufacturer, First Solar in Perrysburg, Ohio, increased module efficiency from 6 to 10 percent from 2005 to 2007 and is reaching for 11.5 percent by 2010.

Pressurized Caverns
The great limiting factor of solar power, of course, is that it generates little electricity when skies are cloudy and none at night. Excess power must therefore be produced during sunny hours and stored for use during dark hours. Most energy storage systems such as batteries are expensive or inefficient.

Compressed-air energy storage has emerged as a successful alternative. Electricity from photovoltaic plants compresses air and pumps it into vacant underground caverns, abandoned mines, aquifers and depleted natural gas wells. The pressurized air is released on demand to turn a turbine that generates electricity, aided by burning small amounts of natural gas. Compressed-air energy storage plants have been operating reliably in Huntorf, Germany, since 1978 and in McIntosh, Ala., since 1991. The turbines burn only 40 percent of the natural gas they would if they were fueled by natural gas alone, and better heat recovery technology would lower that figure to 30 percent.

Studies by the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., indicate that the cost of compressed-air energy storage today is about half that of lead-acid batteries. The research indicates that these facilities would add three or four cents per kWh to photovoltaic generation, bringing the total 2020 cost to eight or nine cents per kWh.

Electricity from photovoltaic farms in the Southwest would be sent over high-voltage DC transmission lines to compressed-air storage facilities throughout the country, where turbines would generate electricity year-round. The key is to find adequate sites. Mapping by the natural gas industry and the Electric Power Research Institute shows that suitable geologic formations exist in 75 percent of the country, often close to metropolitan areas. Indeed, a compressed-air energy storage system would look similar to the U.S. natural gas storage system. The industry stores eight trillion cubic feet of gas in 400 underground reservoirs. By 2050 our plan would require 535 billion cubic feet of storage, with air pressurized at 1,100 pounds per square inch. Although development will be a challenge, plenty of reservoirs are available, and it would be reasonable for the natural gas industry to invest in such a network.

Hot Salt
Another technology that would supply perhaps one fifth of the solar energy in our vision is known as concentrated solar power. In this design, long, metallic mirrors focus sunlight onto a pipe filled with fluid, heating the fluid like a huge magnifying glass might. The hot fluid runs through a heat exchanger, producing steam that turns a turbine.

For energy storage, the pipes run into a large, insulated tank filled with molten salt, which retains heat efficiently. Heat is extracted at night, creating steam. The molten salt does slowly cool, however, so the energy stored must be tapped within a day.

Nine concentrated solar power plants with a total capacity of 354 megawatts (MW) have been generating electricity reliably for years in the U.S. A new 64-MW plant in Nevada came online in March 2007. These plants, however, do not have heat storage. The first commercial installation to incorporate it—a 50-MW plant with seven hours of molten salt storage—is being constructed in Spain, and others are being designed around the world. For our plan, 16 hours of storage would be needed so that electricity could be generated 24 hours a day.

Existing plants prove that concentrated solar power is practical, but costs must decrease. Economies of scale and continued research would help. In 2006 a report by the Solar Task Force of the Western Governors' Association concluded that concentrated solar power could provide electricity at 10 cents per kWh or less by 2015 if 4 GW of plants were constructed. Finding ways to boost the temperature of heat exchanger fluids would raise operating efficiency, too. Engineers are also investigating how to use molten salt itself as the heat-transfer fluid, reducing heat losses as well as capital costs. Salt is corrosive, however, so more resilient piping systems are needed.

Concentrated solar power and photovoltaics represent two different technology paths. Neither is fully developed, so our plan brings them both to large-scale deployment by 2020, giving them time to mature. Various combinations of solar technologies might also evolve to meet demand economically. As installations expand, engineers and accountants can evaluate the pros and cons, and investors may decide to support one technology more than another.

Direct Current, Too
The geography of solar power is obviously different from the nation's current supply scheme. Today coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants dot the landscape, built relatively close to where power is needed. Most of the country's solar generation would stand in the Southwest. The existing system of alternating-current (AC) power lines is not robust enough to carry power from these centers to consumers everywhere and would lose too much energy over long hauls. A new high-voltage, direct-current (HVDC) power transmission backbone would have to be built.

Studies by Oak Ridge National Laboratory indicate that long-distance HVDC lines lose far less energy than AC lines do over equivalent spans. The backbone would radiate from the Southwest toward the nation's borders. The lines would terminate at converter stations where the power would be switched to AC and sent along existing regional transmission lines that supply customers.

The AC system is also simply out of capacity, leading to noted shortages in California and other regions; DC lines are cheaper to build and require less land area than equivalent AC lines. About 500 miles of HVDC lines operate in the U.S. today and have proved reliable and efficient. No major technical advances seem to be needed, but more experience would help refine operations. The Southwest Power Pool of Texas is designing an integrated system of DC and AC transmission to enable development of 10 GW of wind power in western Texas. And TransCanada, Inc., is proposing 2,200 miles of HVDC lines to carry wind energy from Montana and Wyoming south to Las Vegas and beyond.

Stage One: Present to 2020
We have given considerable thought to how the solar grand plan can be deployed. We foresee two distinct stages. The first, from now until 2020, must make solar competitive at the mass-production level. This stage will require the government to guarantee 30-year loans, agree to purchase power and provide price-support subsidies. The annual aid package would rise steadily from 2011 to 2020. At that time, the solar technologies would compete on their own merits. The cumulative subsidy would total $420 billion (we will explain later how to pay this bill).

About 84 GW of photovoltaics and concentrated solar power plants would be built by 2020. In parallel, the DC transmission system would be laid. It would expand via existing rights-of-way along interstate highway corridors, minimizing land-acquisition and regulatory hurdles. This backbone would reach major markets in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego to the west and San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Birmingham, Ala., Tampa, Fla., and Atlanta to the east.

Building 1.5 GW of photovoltaics and 1.5 GW of concentrated solar power annually in the first five years would stimulate many manufacturers to scale up. In the next five years, annual construction would rise to 5 GW apiece, helping firms optimize production lines. As a result, solar electricity would fall toward six cents per kWh. This implementation schedule is realistic; more than 5 GW of nuclear power plants were built in the U.S. each year from 1972 to 1987. What is more, solar systems can be manufactured and installed at much faster rates than conventional power plants because of their straightforward design and relative lack of environmental and safety complications.

Stage Two: 2020 to 2050
It is paramount that major market incentives remain in effect through 2020, to set the stage for self-sustained growth thereafter. In extending our model to 2050, we have been conservative. We do not include any technological or cost improvements beyond 2020. We also assume that energy demand will grow nationally by 1 percent a year. In this scenario, by 2050 solar power plants will supply 69 percent of U.S. electricity and 35 percent of total U.S. energy. This quantity includes enough to supply all the electricity consumed by 344 million plug-in hybrid vehicles, which would displace their gasoline counterparts, key to reducing dependence on foreign oil and to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Some three million new domestic jobs—notably in manufacturing solar components—would be created, which is several times the number of U.S. jobs that would be lost in the then dwindling fossil-fuel industries.

The huge reduction in imported oil would lower trade balance payments by $300 billion a year, assuming a crude oil price of $60 a barrel (average prices were higher in 2007). Once solar power plants are installed, they must be maintained and repaired, but the price of sunlight is forever free, duplicating those fuel savings year after year. Moreover, the solar investment would enhance national energy security, reduce financial burdens on the military, and greatly decrease the societal costs of pollution and global warming, from human health problems to the ruining of coastlines and farmlands.

Ironically, the solar grand plan would lower energy consumption. Even with 1 percent annual growth in demand, the 100 quadrillion Btu consumed in 2006 would fall to 93 quadrillion Btu by 2050. This unusual offset arises because a good deal of energy is consumed to extract and process fossil fuels, and more is wasted in burning them and controlling their emissions.

To meet the 2050 projection, 46,000 square miles of land would be needed for photovoltaic and concentrated solar power installations. That area is large, and yet it covers just 19 percent of the suitable Southwest land. Most of that land is barren; there is no competing use value. And the land will not be polluted. We have assumed that only 10 percent of the solar capacity in 2050 will come from distributed photovoltaic installations—those on rooftops or commercial lots throughout the country. But as prices drop, these  applications could play a bigger role.

2050 and Beyond
Although it is not possible to project with any exactitude 50 or more years into the future, as an exercise to demonstrate the full potential of solar energy we constructed a scenario for 2100. By that time, based on our plan, total energy demand (including transportation) is projected to be 140 quadrillion Btu, with seven times today's electric generating capacity.

To be conservative, again, we estimated how much solar plant capacity would be needed under the historical worst-case solar radiation conditions for the Southwest, which occurred during the winter of 1982–1983 and in 1992 and 1993 following the Mount Pinatubo eruption, according to National Solar Radiation Data Base records from 1961 to 2005. And again, we did not assume any further technological and cost improvements beyond 2020, even though it is nearly certain that in 80 years ongoing research would improve solar efficiency, cost and storage.

Under these assumptions, U.S. energy demand could be fulfilled with the following capacities: 2.9 terawatts (TW) of photovoltaic power going directly to the grid and another 7.5 TW dedicated to compressed-air storage; 2.3 TW of concentrated solar power plants; and 1.3 TW of distributed photovoltaic installations. Supply would be rounded out with 1 TW of wind farms, 0.2 TW of geothermal power plants and 0.25 TW of biomass-based production for fuels. The model includes 0.5 TW of geothermal heat pumps for direct building heating and cooling. The solar systems would require 165,000 square miles of land, still less than the suitable available area in the Southwest.

In 2100 this renewable portfolio could generate 100 percent of all U.S. electricity and more than 90 percent of total U.S. energy. In the spring and summer, the solar infrastructure would produce enough hydrogen to meet more than 90 percent of all transportation fuel demand and would replace the small natural gas supply used to aid compressed-air turbines. Adding 48 billion gallons of biofuel would cover the rest of transportation energy. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced 92 percent below 2005 levels.

Who Pays?
Our model is not an austerity plan, because it includes a 1 percent annual increase in demand, which would sustain lifestyles similar to those today with expected efficiency improvements in energy generation and use. Perhaps the biggest question is how to pay for a $420-billion overhaul of the nation's energy infrastructure. One of the most common ideas is a carbon tax. The International Energy Agency suggests that a carbon tax of $40 to $90 per ton of coal will be required to induce electricity generators to adopt carbon capture and storage systems to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This tax is equivalent to raising the price of electricity by one to two cents per kWh. But our plan is less expensive. The $420 billion could be generated with a carbon tax of 0.5 cent per kWh. Given that electricity today generally sells for six to 10 cents per kWh, adding 0.5 cent per kWh seems reasonable.

Congress could establish the financial incentives by adopting a national renewable energy plan. Consider the U.S. Farm Price Support program, which has been justified in terms of national security. A solar price support program would secure the nation's energy future, vital to the country's long-term health. Subsidies would be gradually deployed from 2011 to 2020. With a standard 30-year payoff interval, the subsidies would end from 2041 to 2050. The HVDC transmission companies would not have to be subsidized, because they would finance construction of lines and converter stations just as they now finance AC lines, earning revenues by delivering electricity.

Although $420 billion is substantial, the annual expense would be less than the current U.S. Farm Price Support program. It is also less than the tax subsidies that have been levied to build the country's high-speed telecommunications infrastructure over the past 35 years. And it frees the U.S. from policy and budget issues driven by international energy conflicts.

Without subsidies, the solar grand plan is impossible. Other countries have reached similar conclusions: Japan is already building a large, subsidized solar infrastructure, and Germany has embarked on a nationwide program. Although the investment is high, it is important to remember that the energy source, sunlight, is free. There are no annual fuel or pollution-control costs like those for coal, oil or nuclear power, and only a slight cost for natural gas in compressed-air systems, although hydrogen or biofuels could displace that, too. When fuel savings are factored in, the cost of solar would be a bargain in coming decades. But we cannot wait until then to begin scaling up.

Critics have raised other concerns, such as whether material constraints could stifle large-scale installation. With rapid deployment, temporary shortages are possible. But several types of cells exist that use different material combinations. Better processing and recycling are also reducing the amount of materials that cells require. And in the long term, old solar cells can largely be recycled into new solar cells, changing our energy supply picture from depletable fuels to recyclable materials.

The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable U.S. energy system is not technology or money, however. It is the lack of public awareness that solar power is a practical alternative—and one that can fuel transportation as well. Forward-looking thinkers should try to inspire U.S. citizens, and their political and scientific leaders, about solar power's incredible potential. Once Americans realize that potential, we believe the desire for energy self-sufficiency and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will prompt them to adopt a national solar plan. 

IBM has a new online game that may inspire kids to save the planet!

New game: Save the planet, fall in love with math
IBM's PowerUp virtual world game designed to get kids interested in engineering
By Sharon Gaudin

February 15, 2008 (Computerworld) IBM is hoping that its new multiplayer online game could inspire kids to work to save the planet while falling in love with math and science.

PowerUp is a three-dimensional virtual world that challenges players to save the planet Helios from ecological disaster, explained Stanley Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs  at IBM.  The game, which can be played alone or in groups, features a planet in near ecological ruin where three missions for solar, wind and water power must be solved before sandstorms, floods or SmogGobs overtake the planet. To do that, players need to become virtual engineers who create energy-saving technologies.

"It's very exciting," said Litow. "Everyone knows there's a crisis in America's competitiveness in business, engineering and science innovation. We've had a very hard time getting kids excited about engineering. You can't compromise on math and science. We need to get young people interested and excited by using the tools that excite them, like games and virtual worlds."

The free game went live last night at this site.  IBM will be showing off the game at Engineer's Week 2008,  which opens Feb. 17 in Washington, D.C. Engineers Week is led by a group of companies, professional organizations and government workers, and focuses on creating interest in engineering as a profession.

PowerUp is designed to encourage players learn about and use engineering principles by riding over rugged mountains in buggies to build solar towers or searching through junk yards to find parts needed to repair wind turbines. Players also should learn about energy conservation by the choices they make to complete their missions. The game also features non-player characters that serve as guides and engineering role models.

Litow noted that IBM also developed lesson plans that teachers can use in the classroom. Built around the premise of the game, the plans focus on math and science curriculums.

"We want kids to be more successful in school and participate in the kind of innovations that will make America great," said Litow, who added that IBM brought in 200 kids, aged 12 to 16, to test and comment on the game. "We'd love kids to get turned on to math and science."

Doing Well by Doing Good: IBM Study Says Businesses Seeking Growth Through Social Responsibility

Thanks to Jeff for all the hard work behind the scenes on this one

2.12.2008 - 08:33am ET

CSR News from: IBM

Doing Well by Doing Good: IBM Study Says Businesses Seeking Growth Through Social Responsibility

(CSRwire) ARMONK, NY -- (MARKET WIRE) -- 02/12/08 -- Companies believe that when they are more open with stakeholders and place social responsibility at the core of their business strategy they will be more competitive, attract and retain the best talent, and gain access to new business opportunities, says a global study released today by IBM (NYSE: IBM).

Many companies now see corporate social responsibility as a growth opportunity rather than just a regulatory compliance or philanthropic effort, with 68 percent of those surveyed focused on generating revenue through CSR activities. In addition, 54 percent believe CSR initiatives contribute to giving their corporations a competitive advantage.

Driving these beliefs is the rising influence of customers who, thanks to their ability to research and share information on the Internet, have become highly sensitized to a broad range of issues -- everything from concerns about climate change, to product safety issues, to labor practices, to corporate financial accountability, to questions about whether corporations are returning enough of their profits to the community.

While customers are becoming the chief driver of this increased focus on CSR, 76 percent of businesses surveyed admit they don't truly understand their customers' CSR concerns. In fact, even businesses that feel they are knowledgeable and prepared to deal with CSR issues may not be. Nearly two-thirds of companies surveyed believe they have sufficient information about the sources behind their products and services to satisfy customer concerns, but half of those admit they don't understand their customers CSR expectations well.

Fueling the customer focus on CSR, three-quarters of businesses report that the number of advocacy groups collecting and reporting information on them has increased in the last three years as has the amount of information businesses are providing about the sourcing, composition and impact of their products, services and operations.

"The more information these stakeholders get, the more they want to know. This increased visibility of corporate behavior is driving consumers' decisions on what to buy and who to buy from, who to work for, who to partner with, where to invest," said George Pohle, VP and Global Leader of IBM's Business Strategy Consulting Practice. "It's not only critical for businesses to keep up with the emerging demands of their stakeholders, but to build CSR into the core of their business strategy. That way CSR is not viewed as a discretionary cost but an investment that will bring financial returns. And since customers are changing buying behavior as a result of CSR, the financial impact can be dramatic."

The survey results are part of a new report released today by IBM Institute for Business Value, titled, "Attaining Sustainable Growth Through Corporate Social Responsibility." The full study, available at, evaluates how well companies understand and manage CSR expectations, as well as outlines steps along the "value curve" that companies can follow to strategically align their CSR objectives to its core business strategy. According to the report, maximum benefit from the CSR opportunity takes place when all activities on the value curve -- legal and compliance, strategic philanthropy, values-based self-regulation, efficiency and growth -- become integrated into a cohesive strategy with leadership driven as much from employees, customers and business partners as from the CEO and senior executives.

IBM Survey Methodology

IBM surveyed senior executives and directors of strategy at 250 companies across the banking, chemicals and petroleum, consumer goods, electronics, energy and utilities, retail and automotive industries.

Of the participants, 30 percent are located in North America, 30 percent in Asia Pacific, 20 percent in Western Europe, seven percent in Eastern Europe, six percent in Latin America, and four percent in the Middle East and Africa.

About IBM

For more information about IBM, please visit:


Note to Editors: Broadcast-quality interview clips with IBM Business Strategy Consulting VP and Global Leader George Pohle is available for download by registered journalists at

Bloggers: Images and video are available for download by registered bloggers at

For more information please contact:

Michael Maloney, IBM Media Relations


WSJ Interview with Palmisano 2/14/2008, IBM+Emerging Markets

Thanks to Scot
Spinning a Global Plan
Why IBM's Chief Is Betting Big
On Developing Countries
February 14, 2008; Page B1

ARMONK, N.Y. -- Nearing his sixth anniversary as the boss of International
Business Machines Corp., Samuel J. Palmisano is happy about the way he has
repositioned the company -- even if the stock market hasn't always shared
his enthusiasm.

Mr. Palmisano has shed IBM's personal-computer business, spent more than
$10 billion on software acquisitions and focused on global markets and what
he calls "infrastructure" -- the software, services and computers that
power big business and government.

The chief executive, who traveled broadly in Asia when he headed IBM Japan,
talked with The Wall Street Journal about IBM's growth strategy in
developing economies last week at IBM headquarters here. He disclosed that
IBM is reorganizing to tailor its structure more to the needs of these
developing countries, which account for 21% of its overall sales. It will
create new developing-markets groups for the Americas, based in Brazil; for
the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe; and for Asia. Excerpts follow:

WSJ: Why do you need to create the new divisions?

Mr. Palmisano: They're going to be completely separated [from the existing
groups] so that they don't get traded off against a problem in Germany, or
Japan, or the United States. We've said we're going to invest $1.6 billion
over three years. And then you create leaders who've lived in these

WSJ: How important are developing economies to IBM's future?

Mr. Palmisano: We target 50 countries that are small today that will be big
in the future. That is probably why, in this economic environment, we might
have a different view of what's going on than others. There's another big
world out there, and it's expanding due to other factors -- not just the
U.S. import market.

WSJ: What made you start focusing more on these markets?

Mr. Palmisano: After the dot-com implosion, the big trend we saw was that
global economies were going to integrate. Asia and developing economies are
the fastest-growing part of the world. And the IT industry is growing
dramatically faster than their GDP.

WSJ: Did you start initially by emphasizing personal computing?

Mr. Palmisano: Four or five years ago, we shifted our model out of the
PC-related things, because it's pretty obvious that the PC is the past.
PC's over ... [Now] it all goes to the cellphone. The cellphone becomes
actually the PC for entertainment, for microloans, for all those other

WSJ: How do you tell when a country is developed enough for business?

Mr. Palmisano: You always get the highlight numbers from the GDP. But
underneath that, people are getting credit cards, buying cellphones, buying
cars. You keep looking for the evolution of a consumer class.

WSJ: IBM doesn't sell to consumers. Why do you look at that consumer

Mr. Palmisano: We do infrastructure. We do back offices. We do banking
systems. We do telco billing. We do call centers. It's growth where there's
good profit opportunity -- not low-margin kinds of areas.

WSJ: Are governments and utilities your initial customers?

Mr. Palmisano: [Countries] all have the same pattern: They build out a
banking system and a telecommunications infrastructure. A communications
infrastructure is the interstate highway, the shipping lane of the future.

WSJ: What happens next?

Mr. Palmisano: Because they don't have a big tax base, they can't go out
and tax. So they have to begin to privatize. The banks and the telcos begin
to become private. The governments get their piece, and they reinvest it in
major infrastructure projects.

WSJ: How do you get started in these countries?

Mr. Palmisano: You need to enter early to establish relationships. You need
to be there when they're looking for partners because once they become
very, very successful, everybody wants to be there.

WSJ: What else do you do to build a relationship?

Mr. Palmisano: We need highly skilled people. So we say we need to help in
the school systems. We'll go in and create a services-as-a-science
curriculum in Vietnam, or in Bulgaria, or in Indonesia. We'll go do that
because we need that skill base, and they want to enhance the skills of
their population.

WSJ: Are there other elements of relationship building?

Mr. Palmisano: If you're going to be a global entity, you don't want to be
viewed as a foreign multinational.

WSJ: If you build infrastructure for the state telephone company and later
work for a competing wireless company, would that be a problem?

Mr. Palmisano: No. They're fine with all that. Take India. I mean, we have
outsourced every Indian telecommunications company. And I can't think of a
Chinese bank that we haven't done the back office for.

WSJ: Are these systems rudimentary?

Mr. Palmisano: In Shanghai or in Beijing, they are the most advanced, the
most modern infrastructure data centers that you'll ever see in the world.
The transaction volumes are going to be significantly bigger than the
world's biggest financial-services companies by an order of magnitude -- a
billion people opening accounts, using ATMs.

WSJ: How do you find local talent?

Mr. Palmisano: IBM's senior management will hire some of the top people out
of the schools and the key government positions. We have a great guy who's
running our Russian operations. He went to all the better schools and
things like that. The early days of India, they were Indians who had lived
in Singapore or the United States. In China, we asked for volunteers, like
in our laboratories, who had family in mainland China and spoke Mandarin.

WSJ: Do you use American or European IBM workers anywhere?

Mr. Palmisano: We will within finance because you want to make sure you
have your control systems in place. You do not want to have local control

WSJ: There's a lot of worry that globalization means fewer jobs and lower
pay for U.S. workers. Is that a legitimate worry?

Mr. Palmisano: It's actually a big opportunity. Why not take advantage of
it? The leading nation in the global economy is the United States of
America. Great schools. Great capital formation. A system that works.

WSJ: Some would say that if you're helping Vietnam or South Africa build
their education systems, it takes away job opportunities from Americans.

Mr. Palmisano: There is a real issue here where I think we need to do
something more [in the U.S.]. IBM announced programs where we'll match
money put in a learning account, and you can apply those tuitions to get
future skills that you think are necessary for you.

WSJ: Can you give an example of a smaller country where your work has
expanded rapidly?

Mr. Palmisano: Egypt's growing like crazy. We have a huge software
laboratory in Egypt. It's doing development for IBM: software components
and middleware. At the same time, it's doing commercial work, which they
would view as an export business, you know, for clients around the world.
The commercial business is growing double digits, right? Egypt is one of
the largest populations in the Middle East and has a government that's
trying to modernize its economy.